Friday, April 8, 2016

Fundamental Topics in Music, Day 3

Welcome back to Impulsive Artistry! Today, we are continuing our second article series in preparation for learning to write your own music! This article covers the following topics: Grouping the Beat, Measures and Basic Time Signatures. We will be referring back to topics covered in Day 1 and Day 2 of this series, I know that it has been a bit since the last post of this series, so be sure to go back and read them now to remind yourself of what we covered, here are the links:

Fundamental Topics in Music, Day 1 Link

If you are still reading this then you must have reread the links above! For those of you who would like to learn “How to Read Music,” here is the link to the first day of that five-part article series that will teach you to do just that!

Learn How To Read Music LINK

Let’s keep going!


Quick Review – The Notation of Basic Note Values

Remember that the beat (pulse) is constant in music, but that the rhythm of the music is the varying durations of the notes against that steady pulse (ie. how long they sound against the pulse.)

These are Quarter Notes! 

A Quarter Note sounds 1 note per beat (pulse). A shorthand way of saying this is that a quarter note gets one beat. 

These are Half Notes!

A Half Note sounds for 2 beats; it begins on the first pulse and holds over the second. The shorthand way to say this is that a half note gets two beats.

This is a Whole Note!

Finally, a Whole Note sounds for four beats; it begins on the first pulse and sustains for the following three pulses (beats).

Naming/Grouping the Beats

Before we continue talking about note values, we must reexamine the idea of naming/grouping the beats. Up to this point we have been discussing notes that fall on the beat, by this I mean, occur in sync with it (Remembering clapping with the metronome? That is clapping to the beat!). Sometimes notes will sound in-between the beats. For this reason, it is important to remember that we can “name the beats” and group them into units:

Beat called 1, beat called 2, beat called 3, and beat called 4, etc…

If we are using a standard grouping of the pulse into four beat units then we would count the beats this way:

1, 2, 3, 4… 1,2,3,4… 1,2,3,4… until the piece was complete.


When looking at written music, the vertical lines (called bar lines), seen above, divide the music into “measures” and group the beats. In this example the beats are divided into four beat (pulse) measures, which means that between each bar line there will be four beats accounted for by the rhythm. I also marked the beat names below the pulses so that you can see what I have been talking about! 

Here is another example:

In the first measure are four quarter notes (four beats accounted), the second measure contains two half notes (two beats each = four beats total), and the last measure has a whole note (one note sounded over four beats). As you can see, each measure contains four beats like I said!

Time Signatures

Time signatures are a symbol used at the beginning of a piece of music to tell the performer what the grouping of the beats in the measures of the piece will be.

Here is the time signature, 4/4 time:

The top number of the time signature tells you how many beats there will be in each measure (here we have 4), and the bottom number tells you what kind of note gets a beat (the four means that the quarter note gets one beat). Other kinds of notes can get a beat, for instance, 2/2, see below in music notation, means that there are 2 beats in each measure and that a half note gets one beat. Make sense?

The most common time signatures are the following: 4/4, 3/4, 2/4 and 6/8. Today, I will focus on the first three and leave the last one for another article.

A 3/4 time signature means, of course that there are three beats in each measure, this is also called Waltz time as this is the beat grouping used in waltzes.

Notice that when notes are stacked vertically they sound/played at the same time on the same beat, therefore, even though there are six notes here, there is still only three beats, as indicated by the time signature. 

Here is a link to a YouTube Video containing many famous waltzes for you to enjoy. Can you feel the groups of three beats? 

Finally, a 2/4 time signature is also called March time and can be heard in most of the great Souza Marches. A 2/4 time signature means that there will be 2 beats in each measure, and that the quarter note gets one beat.

Here is a link to a YouTube Video containing many famous Marches for you to enjoy. Can you feel the groups of two beats? 

As you may have noticed, 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4 all have the quarter note equal to one pulse!  


All right, next time I will discuss more note values that are a bit more complex! I hope that you found this article to be interesting and informative, and I will be back next week with Part 4 of this series!

Have a fantastic creative day!


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